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Seventeen Moons. It was always there. I tried turning the dials on the radio, but it didn't matter. Now it was playing in my head instead of coming out of the speakers, as if someone was Kelting the song to me.

Seventeen moons, seventeen years,

Eyes where Dark or Light appears,

Gold for yes and green for no,

Seventeen the last to know ...

The song was gone. I knew better than to ignore it, but I also knew how Lena acted every time I tried to bring it up.

"It's a song," she would say dismissively. "It doesn't mean anything."

"Like Sixteen Moons didn't mean anything? It's about us." It didn't matter if she knew it or even if she agreed. Either way, it was the moment Lena usually switched from defense to offense, and the conversation veered off track.

"You mean it's about me. Dark or Light? Whether or not I'm going to go all Sarafine on you? If you've already decided I'm going Dark, why don't you admit it?"

At that point, I would say something stupid to change the subject. Until I learned not to say anything at all. So we didn't talk about the song that was playing in my head, same as it was in hers.

Seventeen Moons. We couldn't avoid it.

The song had to be about Lena's Claiming, the moment she would become Light or Dark forever. Which could only mean one thing: she wasn't Claimed. Not yet. Gold for yes and green for no? I knew what the song meant -- the gold eyes of a Dark Caster or the green eyes of a Light one. Since the night of Lena's birthday, her Sixteenth Moon, I had tried to tell myself it was all over, that Lena didn't have to be Claimed, that she was some kind of exception. Why couldn't it be different for her, since everything else about her seemed to be so exceptional?

But it wasn't different. Seventeen Moons was proof. I'd heard Sixteen Moons for months before Lena's birthday, a harbinger of things to come. Now the words had changed again, and I was faced with another eerie prophecy. There was a choice to be made, and Lena hadn't made it. The songs never lied. At least, they hadn't yet.

I didn't want to think about it. As I headed up the long rise leading to the gates of Ravenwood Manor, even the grinding sound of the tires on gravel seemed to repeat the one inescapable truth. If there was a Seventeenth Moon, then it had all been for nothing. Macon's death had been for nothing.

Lena would still have to Claim herself for Light or Dark, deciding her fate forever. There was no turning back for Casters, no changing sides. And when she finally made her choice, half her family would die because of it. The Light Casters or the Dark Casters -- the curse promised only one side could survive. But in a family where generations of Casters had no free will and had been Claimed for Light or Dark on their own sixteenth birthdays without any say in the matter, how was Lena supposed to make that kind of choice?

All she had wanted, her whole life, was to choose her own destiny. Now she could, and it was like some kind of cruel cosmic joke.

I stopped at the gates, turned off the engine, and closed my eyes, remembering -- the rising panic, the visions, the dreams, the song. This time, Macon wouldn't be there to steal away the unhappy endings. There was nobody left to get us out of trouble, and it was coming fast.


Lemons and Ash

When I pulled up in front of Ravenwood, Lena was sitting on the crumbling veranda, waiting. She was wearing an old button-down shirt and jeans and her beat-up Chuck Taylors. For a second, it seemed as if it could've been three months ago and today was just another day. But she was also wearing one of Macon's pinstriped vests, and it wasn't the same. Now that Macon was gone, something about Ravenwood felt wrong. Like going to the Gatlin County Library if Marian, its only librarian, wasn't there, or to the DAR without the most important daughter of the Daughters of the American Revolution herself, Mrs. Lincoln. Or to my parents' study without my mom.

Ravenwood looked worse every time I came. Staring out at the archway of weeping willows, it was hard to imagine the garden had deteriorated so quickly. Beds of the same kinds of flowers Amma had painstakingly taught me to weed as a kid were fighting for space in the dry earth. Beneath the magnolias, clusters of hyacinth were tangled with hibiscus, and heliotrope infested the forget-me-nots, as if the garden itself was in mourning. Which was entirely possible. Ravenwood Manor had always seemed to have a mind of its own. Why should the gardens be any different? The weight of Lena's grief probably wasn't helping. The house was a mirror for her moods, the same way it had always been for Macon's.

When he died, he left Ravenwood to Lena, and sometimes I wondered whether it would have been better if he hadn't. The house was looking bleaker by the day, instead of better. Every time I drove up the hill, I found myself holding my breath, waiting for the smallest sign of life, something new, something blooming. Every time I reached the top, all I saw were more bare branches.

Lena climbed into the Volvo, a complaint already on her lips. "I don't want to go."

"No one wants to go to school."

"You know what I mean. That place is awful. I'd rather stay here and study Latin all day."

This wasn't going to be easy. How could I convince her to go somewhere I didn't even want to go? High school sucked. It was a universal truth, and whoever said these were supposed to be the best years of your life was probably drunk or delusional. I decided reverse psychology was my only shot. "High school is supposed to be the worst years of your life."

"Is that so?"

"Definitely. You have to come back."

"And that will make me feel better how, exactly?"

"I don't know. How about, it's so bad, it'll make the rest of your life seem great in comparison?"

"By your logic, I should spend the day with Principal Harper."

"Or try out for cheerleading."

She twirled her necklace around her finger, her distinctive collection of charms knocking against each other. "It's tempting." She smiled, almost a laugh, and I knew she was going with me.

Lena rested her shoulder against mine the whole way to school. But when we got to the parking lot, she couldn't bring herself to get out of the car. I didn't dare turn off the engine.

Savannah Snow, the queen of Jackson High, walked past us, hitching her tight T-shirt above her jeans. Emily Asher, her second in command, followed behind, texting as she slid between cars. Emily saw us and grabbed Savannah by the arm. They stopped, the response of any Gatlin girl whose mamma had raised her right, when faced with a relative of the recently departed. Savannah clutched her books to her chest, shaking her head at us sadly. It was like watching an old silent movie.

Your uncle's in a better place now, Lena. He's up at the pearly gates, where a chorus a angels is leadin' him to his ever-lovin' Maker.

I translated for Lena, but she already knew what they were thinking.

Stop it!

Lena slid her battered spiral notebook in front of her face, trying to disappear. Emily held up her hand, a timid half-wave. Giving us our space, letting us know she was not only well bred but sensitive. I didn't have to be a mind reader to know what she was thinking either.

I'm not comin' over there, because I'm a lettin' you grieve in peace, sweet Lena Du-channes. But I will always, and I do mean always, be here for you, like the Good Book and my mamma taught me.